Rest in peace and opulence
Family grave plots cost up to R200 000. NONI MOKATI reports
AN ENORMOUS black granite ediface polished to perfection boldly stands at the lower corner of the cemetery. Below it are eight granite tombstones carved into coffin-like shapes. Two granite stone benches, a table and a pot plant are mounted neatly next to a wall. Not a single speck of dust is in sight.
The silver letters “Mabitsela Family Estate” are inscribed on the large stone with an image of a lion placed at the centre.
One would swear an emperor is buried here. Perhaps.
The tombstone is the brainchild of affluent businessman Taukobong Mabitsela.
Mabitsela is one of the select few who have spent hundreds of thousands of rand to secure graves for his relatives and erect elaborate tombstones at the Fourways Memorial Park – one of South Africa’s most exclusive cemeteries.
Situated in Joburg’s elite suburb Craigavon, the Memorial Park is where the country’s revered and wealthy lay their loved ones to rest.
It is where former soccer player Lucas Radebe chose to intern his wife Feziwe and where former President Nelson Mandela’s greatgranddaughter Zenani was buried.
It is where Rwandan-born billionaire Miko Alexis Rwayitare’s family wanted him to be. Considered the “Great Man of Africa”, Rwayitare lived in Belgium at the time of his death. However, when his family learnt about the memorial park, they spared no expense to have his body flown to South Africa and buried here.
Prominent artists, poets, anthropologists and influential political figures have been buried here alongside their loved ones.
“I learnt about the memorial park in 1999 when I attended a funeral service. Instantly I knew where I wanted my family to be buried. I designed the tombstone and worked with stonemasons in Brakpan. It took them two weeks to complete it,” says Mabitsela, whose baby sister Clara was the first member of his family to be buried there.
Not far from the Mabitsela’s family estate, cherub statues are placed in an immaculate manicured garden inside other family grave estates.
Close by neon-coloured and beaded wind chimes ring peacefully in the children’s section. They are for a young girl who died last year. Her grave is all things bright and beautiful from swirling pink and crimson artificial flowers to multifloral pot plants. A heart-wrenching message is written in pink letters on her tombstone: “God took you away but you are an angel now.”
The Fourways Memorial Park’s blueprint is based on immense exclusivity – with select funeral products and stringent security. Graves are priced from R27 500 for a single. Eight graves within a family estate can be bought for R200 000 – this excludes coffins, tombstones, priests, venues and hearses.
Burial rights for children under the age of five are priced at R12 500 excluding a tombstone and it costs R8 000 for an ash grave where two interments can take place.
But money seems to be no obstacle for families who have gone as far as to bury only one person in a R200 000 family estate.
The Memorial Park’s chief operating officer Deon Kiengbiel says the design of the park is aimed at creating more burial space.
“For instance, three people can be buried in one grave. Therefore, the eight grave sites within family estates can take up to 24 bodies. This is why our family estates are a top choice for many of our clients,” he said.
The memorial park has 60 more years of burial space. Kiengbiel and his entire team are kept on their toes to meet the exclusive requests made by their clients.
Some families want different enclosures.
Normally bodies face east during burial, but the Chinese community prefer to face south east and one clients wanted to face south.
Kiengbiel finds it difficult to deal with parents who have lost young children. “How does one comfort an inconsolable couple who want their stillborn baby or an infant who dies within a matter of days to be buried here?
“Some families hire men to look after the family estate garden. One is there daily. He is paid to trim the garden, mop and polish the statue of a well-known deceased businessman every day – without fail.”
The memorial park also caters for families who want to have picnics – and bizarrely weddings are also held at the venue.
Originally the park was a farm which has been owned by the Van der Merwe family for more than 105 years. In 1932 it was a flower farm.
When prospects for farming were bleak, Gerrit van der Merwe researched cemeteries overseas and in 1998 established the Fourways Memorial Park on the family farm. He is now the director.
Today there are several sites. The Berm section caters for the traditional tombstones, the children’s section is tailor-made. The ash grave section is accompanied by a rose garden where remains are scattered.
While the memorial park conducts about five burials a month and 120 burials a year compared to the famous Soweto Avalon cemetery where 120 people are buried a week, Kiengbiel is sure of one thing – it is here to stay because more and more people desire to bury their loved ones the way they lived – in opulence.
FAMILY PLOT: This is the Mabitsela family estate section at the Fourways Memorial Park, where one can expect to pay R100 000 for four graves. The price is only for the land – people spend hundreds of thousands of rand to decorate as they please.